How to Stop Windows 10 from Collecting Data about You

Windows 10 gathers a large amount of personal data about you. You can stop Microsoft from collecting much of this data by changing Windows 10's privacy controls. However, they can be hard to find and understand. The following guide can help you cut through the confusion. It presents some of the most important privacy settings you might want to change and where to find them. In some instances, you need to log in as an administrator to configure them.

General Privacy Settings

A good place to begin is with the general privacy settings. To reach them, click the "Start" button, select "Settings", and choose "Privacy". On the Privacy page of the Settings window, select the "General" option in the left pane. In the right pane, you will see several privacy controls. The ones you might want to change are:

  • "Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps". Windows 10 automatically assigns you an advertising ID. Advertisers use it to personalize the ads you see in Windows applications, similar to the way cookies are used to personalize the ads you see in your web browser. If you are uncomfortable with advertisers tracking your activity in Windows applications, move the on/off slider to "Off".
  • "Send Microsoft info about how I write to help us improve typing and writing in the future". By default, Microsoft collects information about how you type or write in order to improve Windows' autocomplete and handwriting-recognition functionalities. Moving the on/off slider to "Off" will stop Microsoft from collecting this information.
  • "Let websites provide locally relevant content by accessing my language list". When enabled (the default), your browser customizes your search results if you have selected a language other than English. To prevent websites from accessing your language list, move the on/off slider to "Off".
  • "Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info". Clicking this link takes you to a web page where you can control whether the Microsoft Edge browser will show you targeted ads based on your browsing history. If that is unacceptable to you, click the "Choose" button and set the "Personalized ads in this browser" option to "Off".

There is one general privacy control that you probably should not change: "Turn on SmartScreen FiIter to check web content (URLs) that Windows Store apps use". When enabled (the default), the SmartScreen FiIter sends the URLs used by Windows Store applications to Microsoft to check them against a list of potentially harmful sites. If they are on the list, the sites are blocked.

Location Tracking Settings

Windows 10 tracks your location by default, even if you are running Windows 10 from a desktop computer. Applications such as Cortana, Microsoft Edge, and Snapfish use location information. For example, Cortana needs it to suggest local restaurants, give you map directions, and deliver local traffic reports.

By default, location tracking is enabled for all applications and services that rely on this information. Further, any person who has a user account on a computer can customize that computer's location tracking settings. To change the location tracking settings, go to the Privacy page of the Settings window and select "Location" in the left pane. In the right pane, you will be presented with several options.

You can turn off location tracking at the device level or the account level. When location tracking is turned off at the device level, it is disabled across all applications and services, including Cortana. Plus, it is disabled for all user accounts on that computer. To turn off location tracking at the device level, click the "Change" button. In the box that appears, move the "Location for this device" on/off slider to "Off".

To turn off location tracking for all applications and services at the account level, you need to set the "Location" on/off slider to "Off". This setting will only apply to you. Any other users will be able to configure their own location tracking settings.

If you want to leave location tracking on for Cortana and a few other applications, you can leave the "Location" on/off slider to "On" and specify those applications in the section titled "Choose apps that can use your location".

Speech, Inking, and Typing Setting

Microsoft collects and stores information about you so that Cortana can learn how you speak, study your handwriting, and learn your contacts and schedule. You can easily disable this feature and clear any information Cortana has collected about you so far on your computer. To do so, go to the Privacy page of the Settings window and select "Speech, inking, & typing" in the left pane. In the right pane, click the "Stop getting to know me" button and then click "Turn off" in the popup window.

Besides storing your personal information on your device, Cortana stores it online as part of your Microsoft account. That way, if you log in to your account from another device running Windows 10, Cortana will have access to your personal information. To delete that data, click inside the "Ask Me Anything" search box in the left corner of the Windows desktop. In the menu that appears, click the third icon from the top (the one that looks like a floppy disk) and select "Settings". Choose the "Manage what Cortana knows about me in the cloud" option. In the web page that appears, click both "Clear" buttons to remove any online information stored about you.

Diagnostic and Usage Data Setting

Windows 10 sends diagnostic and usage data about your computer to Microsoft. By default, it sends the maximum amount of information. You can limit (but not stop) the amount and type of information sent. Go to the Privacy page of the Settings window and select "Feedback & diagnostics" in the left pane. In the right pane, change the "Diagnostic and usage data" setting from "Full (Recommended)" to either "Basic" or "Enhanced". You can find out what type of information is gathered for each option on the web page discussing the "Diagnostic and usage data" setting.

A Good Start

If you want to limit the amount of data that Microsoft is collecting from your computer, changing the privacy controls discussed here is a good start. There are other privacy controls, though, that you might also want to change. Your IT service provider can help you find and set those privacy settings.